Category Archives: spam

The self-correcting social network


Their SEO boys are not going to like this.

If you missed the Final Footwear debate this week, the shoe company apparently hired SEO experts who in turn apparently began filling blogs with spammy comments — “great blog post!” — with links back to FinalFootwear.com. Our blog got hit several times. (Such link building is a dirty search engine optimization tactic to try to trick Google into thinking a web site is more relevant, since many links now point back to the site, Google rates sites in part by how many links point to them, and thus Google in turn might elevate that company’s web site in search results.) We say apparently, because it is possible real people named Nike and Timberland decided to comment on blogs and link randomly back to a shoe web site. So we gave Final Footwear’s SEO plotters a little spanking.

The most interesting thing about the issue is now if anyone searches Google for “FinalFootwear” as one word, our questions about whether it is a link-spammer are now the second and fourth search results. As we wrote over at Kelly Craft’s blog:

“It shows how all brands, and all of us, must tread fairly online, since human networks are now self-correcting. When people cross lines of perceived fairness, the group communities react. It’s almost a new form of social justice — groups of humans know when something is wrong, and now social media helps them react very clearly with a response.”

Final Footwear, we’re still willing to discuss this in person. Feel free to give us a call.

FinalFootwear.com: Anatomy of a link-spammer


This is FinalFootwear.com. Surely a reputable company, and we’re certain it had no intention of hiring an SEO consultant to build fake links in blogs such as our own pointing back to its site, trying to trick Google into elevating its position in Google search results. Any such occurrence must be a coincidence. Really. I mean, geez, lying in print is almost criminal, and who would do that?

Now, this below is a link spammer, commenting on our blog, with a link embedded in the “Nike” name going back to FinalFootwear.com:


Nice tone, appealing to our ego. You know, the type of comment we might leave there forever, with a link … pointing to FinalFootwear. And so is this:


We’re sure it’s an honest mistake, FinalFootwear, and these comments are totally unaffiliated with you. After all, if word got out you were trying to mislead people to find your site, people wouldn’t want to shop at FinalFootwear, would they? Instead, they’d think you were a bottom feeder in the marketing universe polluting the Internet with lies, and word might get around that it’s risky to shop at such a disreputable company. That would be too bad, wouldn’t it?

And just to show we don’t think you’d do such a dishonest thing, we’ve even included a link to your site in our lede. So you’d notice. And let’s be clear with your lawyers, we ABSOLUTELY are casting no judgment or making any claim that you would conduct misleading behavior in web links to get people to your site. Really. We’re NOT saying that at all. We’re just happy that people named Nike and Timberland happen to like our blog, and they’re welcome to link back to your shoe site whenever they want. Cheers.

Flash Forward to results: ABC cuts back on commercials

One of the more interesting defenses against consumers tuning out advertising is when advertisers cut back on the ads themselves. A few years back, Clear Channel was forced to retrench on the minutes of radio commercials per hour after it realized consumers were aghast at spot overload so switched the dial, hurting ratings. More recently Hulu.com launched its online video format with a similar less-is-more ad structure, with minimal paid interruptions.

Now big broadcast boy ABC is cutting back as well, reducing television commercials in its premiere episodes and not starting most spots until 15 minutes into the show. Jeff Bader, ABC Entertainment’s scheduling chief, told the Los Angeles Times “you hope the longer you keep them at the start of the show, the more likely they are to stick to it.” The gripping “Flash Forward,” which premieres this Thursday night, may go as long as 18 minutes before a commercial break.

A history of polluted networks

The tragedy of the commons is something marketers typically fail to think about until it’s too late. Telemarketing was the first victim, becoming so obnoxious that consumers eventually rebelled with the Do Not Call lists, almost killing the industry. Email spam became a joke with filters blocking most messages and a response rate something like 1 in 12.5 million. Now social media risks the same network counter-reaction: paid messages in blogs and tweets — not advertising, but paid opinions in which people profess to write what they want about a brand while being paid to do it — are coming from companies such as Izea, and we predict new filters will arise to block out the confusion. If such fuzzy sponsorships go too far, the utility of the network will be diminished, and all users, including marketers, may suffer the consequences.

Want proof? Try to set up a telemarketing program today, and let us know how well it works.

What advertisers fail to realize is we all need a healthy ecosystem for any communication to work. It’s not easy showing restraint, because you’re betting the lost revenue of today will be replaced by more viewers, and more resulting ad sales, tomorrow. But if advertising is kept inside its box, clearly marked with limits on how much time it consumes, consumers in turn will be more likely to pay attention and respond. As media planners, we find the ABC strategy intriguing … because the marketing messages that do get included are likely to break through.

Maybe spam filters will sponsor Izea


Networked spam is nothing new — telephones and fax machines and emails are all systems that got polluted over time, like PCBs building up in the Hudson River, until eventually people rebelled. The FTC, for instance, now allows consumers to register for phone Do Not Call lists and imposes significant fines on marketers who cross the line; DIRECTV and Comcast agreed this spring to pay a total $3.21 million to settle complaints that they called customers who asked not to be dialed again.

Why should marketers care if Twitter rings like a phone sales call over dinner? A few reasons. If you push unwanted messages into social media streams, you will be identified, and the negative backlash can harm your brand. Response rates on spammy messages tend to be low, and the few who do respond tend to be consumers of lower incomes and poorer education who, as bad as this sounds, don’t make good candidates for paying bills or repeat purchases. Leads generated from aggressive pushing — similar to telesales leads of the 1990s before DNC really kicked in — tend not to “stick” as well, meaning customers can be pressured into saying yes and then will wave off your product at the door.

Blogger Chris Brogan and Izea founder Ted Murphy may say sponsoring human opinions is OK as long as participants disclose, but what their myopia fails to see is the damage to the very network they rely on for their paychecks. Izea is plowing full-speed ahead with a planned launch of Sponsored Tweets, in which you can get paid pennies to annoy all your online friends. When the stream of social media is darkened with brand mentions that have no authenticity, consumers will seek fresh communication elsewhere.

At least Google says no

Google, one of the biggest information networks in the world, has already recognized this threat and polices spam, requiring blog shillers to tag their silliness with no-follow tags to keep the posts out of Google search results. Bloggers who fail to do so will be punished by Google by having their own PageRank reduced. Matt Cutts, Google’s spam czar, has said “Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more.” The biggest search engine in the world seems worried that a wave of shilling posts could gunk up its findings, turning off Google users and draining its revenue from real advertising.

The pendulum will swing until consumers rebel, then defenses will arise, and we’ll all end up blocking each other again with a medium that is a bit more cumbersome … like your email In box that protects you with spam filters but occasionally ditches vital messages. Oh well. It’s human nature. Maybe if you’re lucky you can wrangle a few gift cards out of it.

(Twitter is polices unwanted messages in its stream. You can alert them by sending a message to @spam. Be careful not to retweet the entire spam message if you report one, however, since Twitter warns it may mistake you for a spammer too and suspend your account.)

Maybe spam filters will sponsor Izea


Networked spam is nothing new — telephones and fax machines and emails are all systems that got polluted over time, like PCBs building up in the Hudson River, until eventually people rebelled. The FTC, for instance, now allows consumers to register for phone Do Not Call lists and imposes significant fines on marketers who cross the line; DIRECTV and Comcast agreed this spring to pay a total $3.21 million to settle complaints that they called customers who asked not to be dialed again.

Why should marketers care if Twitter rings like a phone sales call over dinner? A few reasons. If you push unwanted messages into social media streams, you will be identified, and the negative backlash can harm your brand. Response rates on spammy messages tend to be low, and the few who do respond tend to be consumers of lower incomes and poorer education who, as bad as this sounds, don’t make good candidates for paying bills or repeat purchases. Leads generated from aggressive pushing — similar to telesales leads of the 1990s before DNC really kicked in — tend not to “stick” as well, meaning customers can be pressured into saying yes and then will wave off your product at the door.

Blogger Chris Brogan and Izea founder Ted Murphy may say sponsoring human opinions is OK as long as participants disclose, but what their myopia fails to see is the damage to the very network they rely on for their paychecks. Izea is plowing full-speed ahead with a planned launch of Sponsored Tweets, in which you can get paid pennies to annoy all your online friends. When the stream of social media is darkened with brand mentions that have no authenticity, consumers will seek fresh communication elsewhere.

At least Google says no

Google, one of the biggest information networks in the world, has already recognized this threat and polices spam, requiring blog shillers to tag their silliness with no-follow tags to keep the posts out of Google search results. The biggest search engine in the world seems worried pollution will choke its revenue model if users bail.

The pendulum will swing until consumers rebel, then defenses will arise, and we’ll all end up blocking each other again with a medium that is slightly less effective and a bit more cumbersome … like your email In box that protects you with spam filters but occasionally ditches vital messages. Oh well. It’s human nature. Maybe if you’re lucky you can wrangle a few gift cards out of it. At least one surefire way to monetize social media is to sell spam filters.

(Twitter is trying to police unwanted messages in its stream. You can alert them by sending a message to @spam.)

We predict Twitter spam filters are coming soon (thanks Squarespace, Spymaster)


Adweek editor Brian Morrissey notes that marketers are rushing to get into the “stream,” the communication flows inside Twitter and Facebook. Unfortunately what is good for any single brand — lots of paid mentions — tends to gum up the ecosystem.

Can you say “someone will soon build a social media spam filter”?

Squarespace is this week’s case study: The web publishing service is giving away 30 iPhones this month to consumers who tweet #squarespace in their Twitter message. Squarespace has succeeded wildly, capturing 1% of all Tweets as of today with about 170 mentions per minute. But you can almost feel the groans as people read message after message with an unknown brand stuck into it. Spymaster drew similar ire a week ago when it launched an online game that sent spammy messages across the Twitter network.

We’ve been down this road before with telemarketing (see Do Not Call lists) and email (see your computer’s spam filtering software). Every new network is virgin territory for marketers to go too far. We fully expect Twitter, or a third-party such as Tweetdeck, to launch filtering capabilities soon to block out unwanted messages.

This is no knock on advertisers (hey, we work at a media planning agency); it’s simply the normal evolution as the lack of initial cleverness of marketers shouting inside emerging human networks leads consumers to rebel. As for getting people to talk about your brand inside social media: Dare we suggest you try to become relevant?

Erotic poetry from our spam in box


Have you ever noticed how junk email about blue pills actually has beautiful headlines? Somewhere a copywriter is working hard to bypass your spam filter, and the result is sheer poetry. So here, at this time of seasonal reflection, we combine our favorite spam email subject lines into a single love poem. Really. We can’t make this up.

“WATCHES.”

Exquisite Replica.
Come to us. We need you.
Only here can you find solution
to all your male troubles.
Now you won’t have to travel south
to make up
for your little defect.

Improve
the quality of your life.
Strength
and largeness
for you.

Here is my number.
Can’t find you, darling.
Over 10 million men made their
women happy
and you?
I don’t know where are you!

Present for you.
It’s cold. Don’t keep me waiting.
The best treatment for you at
a low price. Confirm
your order.
Release your fantasies
tonight.

Happiness.
We need your presence. Show her
all your power.
No working on Xmas.

Lost my number?
I think Sheralle
speaks for all of us. Women
will never dump you after
you spend the night
with them.

It’s absolutely safe
and fast. With a big
instrument you can have
even the most arrogant woman.

You probably gave wrong number.
Don’t disappear
again.
Always
be ready.

Update: We think the “No working on Xmas” was a message from our boss 😉

Photo: Dario.

Wrestling the demons of spam


We realized today that some important emails from friends and colleagues were being dumped into our junk mail folder — hidden from view, lost amid erectile dysfunction pitches for weeks. This probably cost us a new account or two from business contacts who wonder why we haven’t written them back.

So we dug in and reviewed crap from spammers — you know, those marketers who flood the internet with millions of messages about your private parts, rotten souls surely condemned to the Seventh Circle of Hell. Not Dante’s inner ring, reserved for the blasphemers, and not the middle ring, with its Harpies and thorny bushes. Nope. We mean the outer ring, the special place for those who are violent against people, sunk in a river of boiling blood.

Did we mention we don’t like spammers?

But wait. Perhaps we go too far. After all, every form of advertising is intrusive — the question is simply the degree to which our marketing messages are uninvited. The most welcoming are the signs at the retail store or the text ads on Google, which invite users searching for wares to find exactly what they want. Then come catalogs and targeted web banners, tailored a bit to our preferences, followed by magazine print ads that might delight with good copy or harmonious design. As we continue down the intrusion scale, the braying of commercial radio car salesmen begins to grate on our nerves.

Ah, but junk email. Spam. Those misspelled messages trying to sneak past our filters, promising to build long dongs that ring gongs and all manner of girth, whatever that means. (Historians, unearthing digital bits of our age, will think girth was the most popular product of the early 21st century.) Junk email is more than obnoxious. It overwhelms us with bad taste, and upsets us when real messages from our friends get lost in the mix.

It’s really not the email medium that is rotten. Instead, it’s the sneakiness — the fact that the authors hide behind the message, avoiding any adverse impact from consumers who would think poorly of the brand. These marketers prey upon the stupid or naive, and disguise their own names so that anyone with half a brain can’t fight back or complain.

We’ll rethink the punishment … let’s put the spammers into the Ninth Circle of Hell, which Dante wrote was guarded by giants to lock up souls who were betrayers. People who committed fraudulent acts were frozen in a lake of ice called Cocytus, sunk into the painful cold at various degrees depending on the level of the crime. For the marketing authors of unwanted email, ice up to the neck feels about right.